Varvara Karaulova, 19, is a shy philosophy student at Moscow State University. She goes by the nickname “Varya,” but her father, Pavel Karaulov, doesn’t know if he’ll be able to call her that again.
Pavel fears his daughter, an academic-minded girl who speaks several languages, has left their native Russia to join the Islamic State. She boarded a one-way flight to Istanbul on May 27, and it’s not uncommon for ISIS recruits to travel to Syria through Turkey.
Pavel first realized something was amiss when Varvara, who doesn’t live with him, emailed her father a short message: “I’m safe and I’ll be shortly in contact with you.” She also asked her mother to take care of her dog. "She loved her dog very much," Pavel said.
When Pavel did some digging, he learned that Varvara had recently changed her behavior after taking Arabic classes. “Whenever she was leaving home, she was wearing jeans and boots,” he said. “And whenever she got to the university, she changed into a hijab, a long-sleeve jacket and a long skirt.”
“That’s something that is shocking," he added. "I was never told beforehand about that.”
Pavel told authorities about his daughter’s strange behavior, and intelligence agents told him she had changed her name to Nour, which means “light” in Arabic, upon arriving in Turkey.
Varvara was recently tracked to a specific area of Istanbul, and Pavel is hopeful. “I hope good news will come soon,” he said.
Pavel is flying to Istanbul this week to try to find his daughter, although he’s unsure if she’s still be there. “I’m desperate,” he said. “As soon as I can jump on a plane, I’ll be there.”
Thousands of woman from around the world have abandoned their homes to join ISIS, including some Americans.
“ISIS has been on a very strong female recruitment drive, and women are joining ISIS for a variety of reasons, many of which are the same as men: feelings of alienation, feelings of inequality, [for] adventure, in some cases, romance,” Jayne Huckerby, Director of the Duke International Human Rights Clinic, told ABC News in January. “And in many cases, too, these women are responding to quite a deliberate call from the Islamic State to have women come and participate in a form of state-building and to make a new country in which they can practice their religion.”
“Women see themselves playing a number of roles in the group," he added. "They see themselves as recruiters for other young women. They see themselves as a very important part of the propaganda machine of ISIS.”
Though there’s nothing on social media to suggest Varvara has an interest in joining the terrorist group, there’s very little Turkish authorities could do if she has already gone to Syria.
Pavel issued a plea to his daughter. “I love you no matter what,” he said. “Please come home.”